Achievement Gaps and How to Address Them

Hi Friends!
The March for Black Women is being held in DC on September 29. More details are here.
There is a screening of America to Me at Howard University on September 27.
I read an article about an organization in Baltimore called Thread, which creates community support networks around vulnerable youth in a unique way. I think there are some amazing community organizing ideas there, especially the part about being willing to be vulnerable.
The ACLU sent out this amazing tool about mass incarceration that focuses on strategies in all 50 states for reducing the number of people we imprison in our country. It’s worth a look!
I spent some time this weekend reading Gaining On The Gap, which was published in 2011 about the attempts in our school district to address the “achievement gap.” I’m only partway through, but there are some very interesting statements, many of which are very encouraging to the work we are trying to do in this group. My initial takeaways:
(1) What we are really trying to change is culture (staff, students, parents, administrators).
(2) The work the schools are doing must be sustained and supported (and advocated for) by the community.
(3) Everyone is responsible for addressing institutional racism and its effects on our future generations.
(4) Social-economic status differences do NOT account for the racial/ethnic achievement disparities on SOL tests. This came from pages 44–45 about how many would argue that schools couldn’t change disparities because the disparities were caused by social-economic status (SES) differences. The exact quote that I drew my conclusion from states, “These arguments were contradicted in 1999 by analyses of Arlington SOL results, which indicated that even after controlling for SES, racial differences on achievement test results persisted.”
(5) “…gaps will remain until hearts and minds also change.” (p. 61)
(6) “…we are socially conditioned not just to see but also to attach value to race. From and early age, we are far from ‘color blind’ …, although we may be ‘color mute’.” (p. 65)
(7) Expectations (of everyone involved, including the students themselves) are key to success.
(8) Monoculture educational environments perpetuate the challenge of learning how to interact with people from other cultures and is why integrated schools are a necessary piece of dismantling institutional racism. This is my own observation reading on page 68 about cultural competence training to address low expectations — “…many or most of us do not currently know but can learn how to interact constructively with those from other cultures.”
(9) “Because there is a dominant culture in schools, a culture that reflects the dominant culture of society, one task must be to enable all students to become proficient in that culture — it is the culture of power and success. Emphasizing respect for students’ own cultures while they are taught proficiency in the dominant culture, however, is an essential aspect of communicating the respect for who they are and their inherent ability that forms the basis for high expectations.” (p.69)
Two things I should say:
(1) There may have been more recent studies that provide more nuance since this book was published.
(2) My statement might have been too definitive — social-economic factors are relevant, certainly, but do not explain away the disparities — those persist and are based on race/ethnicity.
I’ll keep you posted as I read more. And thanks to all of you who send things my way — I’m so impressed by the involvement of our community members in addressing issues of equity in so many ways!
Some upcoming events:
(1) SURJ-NOVA is holding a community potluck meal on Sunday, September 30 at 6 pm at UUCF in Oakton. Children are welcome.
(2) Doorways is celebrating their 40th anniversary with a breakfast celebration on Friday, October 12 at 8:30 am.
(3) The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington’s event has been postponed until October 11.
(4) The NAACP Arlington Branch is having its 71st Freedom Fund Banquet on Saturday, October 13. Tim Kaine will be the keynote speaker!
(5) A reminder that the school district is having a Community Meeting to kick off the fall elementary school boundary process on Wednesday, September 26 at 7:00 pm. You can also watch live online.
Over the weekend, the SPLC highlighted the 55th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. in 1963. They made special mention of the column Gene Patterson wrote, which was published the next day, and it is worth a read.
Also, if you haven’t read about Botham Jean’s murder in Texas, please take the time to read up on the latest example of our white supremacist system in action.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

Integrating Schools and Measuring School Quality

Hi Friends!
I met last week with a County Board member to let him know about our group and our efforts. He was very receptive and agrees that there are better ways for the County and the school district to coordinate. We talked about funding, improving school choice, and possibilities around mixed use of school buildings (like community access after school hours). I found it to be a productive conversation and he’s glad to know that our group exists and is doing this important work!
The school district released the state SOL pass rate results last week and I wanted to share some data they did not explicitly include in their press release. First, here’s the statewide data about test pass rates broken down by race, economic status, and ability status. Second, here’s the link for creating your own reports (although I didn’t quickly find a way to have the data broken down by those same categories in a single district or school). I am curious how our community compares to the state in these scores, particularly for those noted as economically disadvantaged, English learners, disabled, and also by race. If anyone in the group can find this (or crunch the numbers if you want to spend the time), I’d love to see it.
It is also important to note the significant disadvantages to using standardized tests to measure student achievement, outlined well in this article and I’m sure you can find many more, but of particular interest to this group is the fact that tests are skewed towards privileged children (racially, economically, etc.) and that low test scores are often used to label schools as underperforming, which further exacerbates segregation and disparities among schools.
I have updated the resource list (finally!), so if there’s something you saw in one of my emails, they’re all on that list now (plus more). Check it out when you have a chance.
There are some events coming up that I’d like to share with everyone:
(1) Housing Solutions for Arlington’s “Missing” Middle Class, hosted by the League of Women’s Voters of Arlington on Saturday, September 15 from 1–3 pm.
(2) Saturday, September 8th from 1–3 pm for a special viewing of the award-wining documentary, “The Uncomfortable Truth: 400 Years of Racism in America.” The audience will be joined by award winning writer/director Loki Mulholland for discussion after the film.
(3) The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington and the Arlington Historical Society are hosting a conversation called “Desegregating Arlington School Sports” on Thursday, September 13 from 7–9 pm.
(4) Arlington Action Group is hosting an Allyship Workshop facilitated by Service Never Sleeps on Saturday, September 29 from 10 am-3 pm.
I have more resources for you:
(1) The SPLC wrote an important reminder about prison labor over the weekend.
(2) I received a copy of a report from a committee to the school district’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Students, which includes the committee’s recommendations from April 2018. It’s worth a read.
(3) The ACLU shared a national report on “Race, Discipline, and Safety at U.S. Public Schools,” which I think is a must read for all of us with school-aged children and/or anyone involved in education in any way. I did a quick search and Virginia is one of the worst five states for Black students in the nation. It is also one of the worst five states for students with disabilities.
(4) The Prison Strike is not being well-publicized. Please read up here.
I listened to the Chris Hayes podcast with Nikole Hannah-Jones all the way through finally (it took me a while because I couldn’t resist taking notes), and I can’t recommend it more highly. It’s a lively conversation about the history of segregation in schools and debunks some of the myths around integrating schools. Housing and schools are the third rails of politics because they are inextricably linked and are central to the white supremacist system that our country is based on.
This structure of inequality is largely invisible, which is why it takes both collective political desire AND individual choices to change it. If you feel like your individual effort cannot make a difference, it can. Our faith in public schools needs to rest on the system as a public good, which means that it must serve ALL students. One statement that jumped out at me was that equality to someone with privilege looks like loss, especially before you get to equality (this is what the statement “It’s not pie” tries to address). Everyone wins only after we get past that line, and crossing it is extraordinarily difficult.
But that is why we must try. That is why we must talk to our friends and neighbors. That is why when the school district proposes boundary changes, we should raise our voices in support of integrating schools, even if it means that our child will go what I’m going to call a “less resourced school.” Our voices will do more good supporting all of our community’s children rather than only supporting our own. I know that sounds nuts as a parent. I also think it is true.
Listen, Amplify, Follow